No doubt fear of the dried-out frizz of big ’80s hair was enough to cause many to swear off perms forever.
So, while a revolution in permanent waves started nearly a decade ago in Asia, here, the least bit of a wave seems to send women running for a straight iron.
But fall will see hair that’s longer, calling for more body, styling and maybe even a cascade of loose waves to prevent hair from looking like a limp, stringy mess.
That means the time is right to become acquainted with the digital perm, a technique that started in South Korea and quickly spread to Japan.
The digital perm is actually a hot perm utilizing multisized ceramic rods heated to about 90 degrees. The "digital" moniker is a reference to the digital display of the device that heats the rods.
Originally, those getting the perms were hooked to the machine by heating wires connected to the perm rods.
The effect was like looking at a monstrous device that would bring Frankenstein’s bride to life. These days, third-generation devices simply heat the rods, and hairstylists wear gloves when wrapping hair around them.
Because the machines and solutions are made in Asia, language and geography have been barriers to entry for local salons.
Korea-born Jae Ha Shin has been offering the perms for five years at her Keeaumoku Street salon, Hair News, where the perms run from $90 to $150 depending on hair length. She said she heard about the perms eight years ago from friends in Korea and wanted to try it, saying that it shaves a half-hour off a typical cold perm at a salon.
The solution and heat work together "and make hair very soft," she said. "It lasts longer than a cold perm."
The real benefit is that its combination of a gentler perm solution and loose curls, similar to the result of running a curling iron through the hair, eliminates the frizz effect typically experienced as permed hair grows out.
Shin said most of her clientele are from China, Japan or Korea. "With local people, everyone wants straight hair," she said, although she believes that is changing with the popularity of Korean dramas and more movie stars turning up on red carpets with wavy locks.
Kelly Park is typical of Shin’s clients, as a busy mother of one son with another child on the way.
"They have busy lives. They have children and want an easy hairstyle that they can shampoo, condition and go," according to Stacey Fiapai, a hairstylist at Hair News who helped interpret.
The digital perm also makes sense for summer, as heat and perspiration weigh down on hair.
The perm isn’t affected by heat. "It always looked styled, like you took the time to go through it with a curing iron," Fiapai said.
And even those who typically scrunch their hair up in ponytails benefit.
"If you have straight hair, the ponytail falls down," Shin said. "The perm helps hold it up."
And, she adds, "it looks sexy," even if you’re emerging from a pool or ocean.